Jun 2, 2010 11:42 PM by Chris Welty
Federal regulators approved Wednesday the first new Gulf of
Mexico oil well since President Barack Obama lifted a brief ban on
drilling in shallow water, even while deepwater projects remain
frozen after the massive BP spill.
The Minerals Management Service granted a new drilling permit
sought by Bandon Oil and Gas for a site about 50 miles off the
coast of Louisiana and 115 feet below the ocean's surface. It's
south of Rockefeller State Wildlife Refuge and Game Preserve, far
to the west of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the BP
Obama last week extended a moratorium on wells in deep water
like the BP one that blew out a mile below the surface in April and
is gushing millions of gallons of oil. But at the same time, the
president quietly allowed a three-week-old ban on drilling in
shallow water to expire.
"I'm outraged," said Kieran Suckling, executive director for
the Tucson, Ariz.-based Center for Biological Diversity. "How is
it that shallow water drilling suddenly became safe again?"
Bandon Oil and Gas first sought the permit in April shortly
after the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. The permit was
approved Wednesday morning, according to MMS records.
Suckling said the administration was misleading the public by
quietly resuming work in shallow waters while acting as if it was
taking a tough look at deepwater work.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a news release Sunday
that the extended moratorium on deepwater drilling was needed to
provide time to implement new safety requirements.
"With the BP oil spill still growing in the Gulf, and
investigations and reviews still under way, a six-month pause in
drilling is needed, appropriate, and prudent," Salazar said. He
said the term "deepwater" referred to drilling at depths of 500
feet or greater.
Frank Quimby, a spokesman for the Department of the Interior,
said officials were comfortable with a variety of interim safety
measures for shallow drilling, such as re-certification to ensure
that blowout preventers will work properly. Officials plan to soon
distribute a formal note to companies that outlines all the
"The interim safety measures, as long as they're completely
adhered to, we feel that's enough for the shallow-water drilling to
proceed under closer scrutiny and stepped-up inspections," Quimby
Meanwhile, the acting director of the Minerals Management
Service announced further restrictions for offshore drilling.
Bob Abbey, named Friday to lead the agency, said operators will
be required to submit additional information about potential risks
and safety considerations before being allowed to drill. The rule
applies even to those plans that have already been approved or
received a waiver exempting them from detailed environmental
scrutiny, Abbey said.
The Deepwater Horizon rig was among those given a waiver known
as a "categorical exclusion." New information must be submitted
before any drilling of new wells.
"Pulling back exploration plans and development plans and
requiring them to be updated with new information is consistent
with this cautious approach" adopted by Interior Secretary Ken
Salazar, Abbey said. The rule should ensure that tighter safety
standards and better consideration of risks are incorporated into
drilling plans, he said.
The plan will establish separate requirements for deep water and
shallow water exploration, Abbey said.